Article by Alyx Jones, Doug Waters and Katie Tarrant
Tobacco Docks opened its doors to EGX Rezzed again this year, to hundreds of playable games titles this year, including a massive Indie section, the leftfield collection and a room dedicated to board games. Throughout all 3 days there are also a series of talks split into the Developer Sessions, in the theatre, for an in-depth look at game development, including Ken Levine‘s opening talk on Thursday, and The Rezzed Sessions, in the smaller room with panels and talks from Indie Developers.
Here are some of our favourite games for their use of audio at EGX Rezzed this year:
I’m really in love with this game, it reminds me of Grimm’s Fairy Tales but in a video game, with little yellow riding hood! I first noticed this game at EGX last year and have been following its progress eagerly. It’s heavily based on a stealthy approach with puzzle solving as you go along, to navigate the kitchens. When we get in range of the blubbery chef, the controller begins to pulse in our hands and low frequency drones rise up in the mix to create the intense feeling of being under threat. If we are spotted the chef lets out a screech and begins to thump around heavily, looking for us. If we slip into the shadows to hide the audio slowly dies down to the bubbling of pots and pans, and we can breathe again. Little Nightmares achieves a creepy and intense audio experience without being cliché. It is due for release later this month, on the 28th April, on PS4, XB1 and PC.
My favourite from the leftfield collection was a short game by Rat King called Solitune. It really highlights why I love the leftfield, in terms of gameplay and in terms of audio. Each room has a unique soundtrack, composed by Ludwig Hanisch (aka KingLudi), his work really matches the artistic yet abstract storytelling of the game. Completing simple tasks and puzzles to unlock each character and their narrative, combined with the meditative music, helps to engage a state of flow while playing. Hanisch calls his soundtrack “9 loops for 9 rooms”, that uses a mix of recorded sounds such as bird song with instruments such as the didjeridoo to create a mystical soundscape that surrounds the game. You can listen to the soundtrack here.
RiME was a definite team favourite for use of music and audio at EGX Rezzed. We were all really blown away by the superbly polished, mystical, sound effects in the game as well as the really gorgeous score, all done by the incredibly talented David Garcia. The main protagonist uses his voice to interact with glowing objects, it’s a really nice use of sound, similar to the calling mechanics in Papa & Yo and more recently The Last Guardian. Garcia implemented an adaptive music system using the Unreal Blueprints system and it works really well with the strings rising in the mix when the character approaches objects of interest or moves to a different area. The music feels very Journey-esque, with expressive strings set against a soundscape recorded at the Islas Cies, Spain. Absolutely gorgeous, we can’t wait for its release!
This is another great pick from the leftfield collection. A “voidscape” of a village in the Mediterranean, the developer wanted to create an explorative experience with a strong use of music to evoke the same emotions he felt when visiting this village. He chose the band Palconudo as they encapsulated his own feelings accurately in relation to this village on the coast of North West Italy where he lives. My favourite moment was being teleported up high and interacting with a water hand pump, that also triggers the song “La Danza Dell’ Illusione” by Palconudo. At the stand he also had a small smoke/mood machine that, perhaps by coincidence, started to drift across me at that moment. It was an almost magical moment, with the gorgeous female vocals against an atmospheric soundscape, accompanied by acoustic guitar melodies. It’s always odd when you take your headphones off and adjust back to the crowd of people behind you. This game is on itch.io if you want to try it out!
A Light In Chorus
I first came across this visually captivating game back at 2015’s EGX Rezzed, back then the game was still very heavily in development, lacking a lot of audio and storyline. However, since then, the two-man team of Elliot Johnson and Matthew Warshaw (under the name Broken Fence Games) have brought the game forward in leaps and bounds! The whole game is now very much inspired by the 1977 Voyage space-probe launch and makes use of audio taken from the Voyager Golden Records. These are golden plated records placed aboard the probe; their purpose should any intelligent extraterrestrial life come across them, is to portray Earth’s variety of life and culture. Whilst also containing images, a selection of sounds of everything from vehicles to wind, rain and surf are also included. As an alien life-form that has come across the crashed remains of the 1977 probe, the player now has to use the audio from these records to explore and piece-back-together a far-future Earth destroyed and engulfed by the ocean. Whilst using their own proprietary engine to allow them to create an art style completely constructed of particles, the team is using Firelight Technologies’ FMOD to implement all their sounds and music. One of my favourite moments of gameplay was using the ‘record-player’ function that allows you to morph between four different layers of audio, changing pitch and volume; this morphing works in concert with colour changes in the game, allowing you to manipulate your surroundings. This new direction for the game, and the clever use of the Voyager Golden Records inspired audio, makes A Light In Chorus a very eclectic and intelligent gameplay experience for players! Thanks to NASA’s SoundCloud page, you can now listen to some of the audio put on the Golden Records that has inspired the game! (Golden Record: Sounds of Earth)
Developed by White Paper Games, the makers of Ether One, comes The Occupation. Set after a terrorist attack in 80s Britain, you play a journalist going undercover to investigate an oppressive government act. Whilst in alpha stage, the game featured some promising audio, with crisp and highly detailed sound design and some tight-knit implementation integrated with the excellence of the game’s current animation and environments. My favourite part was the sharp attention to detail in the sound, hearing every element of slowly inching a door open or putting a floppy disk into the computer to copy a file. What I played took me through some casual exploration as well as some tense stealth moments. Minimal music allowed the sound design to thrive and I found the tension grew more in its absence as you never knew what to expect.
This mobile game from Wibbu came with an educational twist. Designed to teach you a new language as you play, Ruby Rei allows you to lead Ruby through an unknown world whilst hearing dialogue in the language you wish to learn and subtitles that you can translate back to your native language with a simple screen tap. The game currently teaches Spanish with more languages being added over time. It was engaging and quirky to play and after a mere 15 minutes, I already found myself picking up on common terms and sentence structures. Highly recommended for all ages!
Amongst the miscellany of games, I was pleased to come across a couple that were primarily audio-driven. Polyphonia was the masters degree project of Blaise Imiolczyk. A VR game for the HTC Vive featuring a neon coloured environment where you are surrounded by floating shapes. Pulling each shape towards you triggered a new musical layer, and you could then use each controller to control various post processing effects to adapt the sound to your choosing. When you let go of the shape, you were then presented with several coloured circles that you can drum on to play your own notes over the musical layers. Being in VR the game manipulated the potential of the binaural audio, with a great sense of reverb as well as the near and far swells and decays of the music’s frequencies to give a perfect sense of being in the game’s cavernous environment.
A Night Sky
Another audio-driven diamond, A Night Sky is a small upcoming creation of Coatsink, free to play and totalling roughly five minutes in duration. Beautiful environment art showed your character sitting atop a mountain clearing looking out across a deserted expanse and a vast night sky. Looking up you could select stars with the Samsung Gear headset which, when selected in order, would form a visual shape in the sky and trigger an immersive cinematic experience accompanied by soaring orchestral music. The music was the creation of accomplished composer Vincent Webb and the way it seamlessly pulled you through each experience made it both a visual and aural extravaganza.
Another Coatsink creation, Augmented Empire is a steam punk-esque VR game reminiscent of Shadow Run. The game is set on a man-made island in the North Atlantic amidst a three tier societal system in which people are divided depending on how valuable the government deems them. Driven by turn based combat, I loved hearing the subtleties of the mechanical sound design, delicate clicks, gears, bangs and motions of the UI, weapons and impacts. The music pulsed perfectly underneath, supporting the on screen action and driving the narrative whilst never becoming invasive on the rest of the game’s audio.
Well that’s it for our roundup of games this year. We’re so thrilled by the amount of amazing sound design, music and voice acting around and we can’t even include all the amazing audio talent we’ve come across. Audio is clearly going from strength to strength in the indie scene and we are so glad to see it happening! Until next time…!
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The Sound Architect